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A.J. Hoffman: Preseason fantasy football tiers

Tom Brady is a top tier QB. Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

One key to winning in your fantasy drafts is not being married to the idea of having a particular player on your team. Unless you have the first pick, no player is guaranteed to you, and even then only one player is guaranteed. Rather than say “I want to build my team around this guy and this guy,” try to put each position group into tiers. If someone you hoped for isn’t available, this will have you a set backup plan at that position. You may also realize that you can take a tier 2 WR over a tier 4 RB, or if your first few tiers at a position start to disappear, you know you need to jump on someone you like with your next pick. Here are my positional tiers heading into draft day. 

QUARTERBACKS

TIER 1

Aaron Rodgers

Tom Brady

Russell Wilson

Unfortunately, I rarely see these types of players in my draft. I tend to wait on quarterback, and these are the names that people will jump on early. Don’t get discouraged. Just improve your team in other spots. 

TIER 2

Cam Newton

Drew Brees

Deshaun Watson

Carson Wentz

There should be a gap between these guys and the first tier, though I am still likely to be waiting a bit. Newton and Watson both have extremely high upside, thanks to their rushing abilities. Brees is almost always a lock for 600 pass attempts per season. Wentz’s health is the biggest question mark on him right now. If healthy, he is solid in this tier. 

TIER 3

Ben Roethlisberger

Kirk Cousins

Philip Rivers

Matt Stafford

Jimmy Garoppolo

Andrew Luck

Matt Ryan

This is usually the tier I am shopping in. These guys should be going late enough that if you take someone with a question mark (Andrew Luck-health/Jimmy G-sustained success), you can afford to take another QB later on as insurance. All of these guys have their warts, but are all capable of putting up Tier 2 numbers if the cards fall right. 

TIER 4

Jared Goff

Dak Prescott

Marcus Mariota

Derek Carr

You are starting to take more risks here, but there is some solid upside, with either potential for big passing seasons from Goff/Carr or bonus rushing points from Mariota/Prescott. 

TIER 5

Patrick Mahomes

Alex Smith

Mitch Trubisky

Blake Bortles

Eli Manning

Case Keenum

Andy Dalton

Here we are talking about guys you are OK with if playing in a 2-QB league. Otherwise these are guys you don’t mind picking up while your top QB has a bye week. 

TIER 6

Jameis Winston

Sam Bradford

Joe Flacco

Tyrod Taylor (maybe not after last night)

Josh Rosen

Sam Darnold

Baker Mayfield

Josh Allen

This tier is filled with guys who may or may not be starting Week 1, and may or may not hold onto their job through the season if they do. These are guys who should go undrafted unless you play in really deep leagues or have 2-QB rules. 

RUNNING BACKS

TIER 1

Todd Gurley

Le’Veon Bell

This is a small tier, and if you play in a PPR format (most leagues play at least .5-PPR at this point), they are even further away from the competition. 

TIER 2

Ezekiel Elliott

David Johnson

Elliott would be tier 1 if he contributed more in the passing game, and Johnson could be tier 1 if he doesn’t show rust after missing basically all of 2017. 

TIER 3

Alvin Kamara

Kareem Hunt

Saquon Barkley

Leonard Fournette

This is a “do you believe the hype” tier. Kamara was such a force last year, and won’t have Mark Ingram to compete for touches with early on, but can he repeat his magical 2017? Is Barkley going to take the NFL by storm and dominate from day 1? Fournette would be in tier 2 but is almost a nil in the passing game. 

TIER 4

Melvin Gordon

Devonta Freeman

Dalvin Cook

Joe Mixon

Christian McCaffrey

Most people seem to be higher on Gordon than I am. The workload will definitely be there, but I just don’t think he is a great player. Mixon and McCaffrey are high upside backs who should see an increase in touches from last season. 

TIER 5

Jordan Howard

Jerick McKinnon

Alex Collins

Kenyan Drake

Jay Ajayi

LeSean McCoy

All of these platers have a high risk of being massively disappointing, although guys like Howard and McCoy could finish the season significantly better than I am projecting here. Drake and Collins will get first looks but will be looking over their shoulders all year. 

TIER 6

Derrick Henry

Lamar Miller

Mark Ingram

Royce Freeman

Tevin Coleman

Rashaad Penny

Ronald Jones

Kerryon Johnson

Marshawn Lynch

Marlon Mack

This is the back end of your RB2 possibilities. Freeman, Penny, Jones and Johnson are all rookies who have a chance to take a bulk of the carries by season’s end. Henry could finish higher if Dion Lewis doesn’t cut into his carries too much. Coleman is one of the best #2s in the league.

TIER 7

Dion Lewis

Rex Burkhead 

Sony Michel

Isaiah Crowell

Jamaal Williams

Carlos Hyde

Chris Thompson

Adrian Peterson

Lots of running back by committee guys here. I wouldn’t feel good about drafting one as a starter, but as bye week filler and injury replacements these guys can contribute just fine. Peterson jumps out as the big name who could do considerably better if the workload is there for him.

TIER 8

Tarik Cohen

Devontae Booker

Samaje Perine 

Giovani Bernard

Duke Johnson, jr. 

Nick Chubb

CJ Anderson

Chris Carson

Peyton Barber

James White

Most of these guys are “cross your fingers” types. They are best drafted as a late round flier or a handcuff to your starter (i.e. Bernard for Joe Mixon).

WIDE RECEIVERS 

TIER 1 

Antonio Brown

DeAndre Hopkins

Odell Beckham, Jr.

Julio Jones

Brown is almost in a tier of his own. These are the WRs that are acceptable to draft in round 1. 

TIER 2

AJ Green

Michael Thomas

Mike Evans 

Davante Adams

Tyreek Hill

You can still feel good if this is your WR1. Guys like Evans and Hill have QB questions but are unquestionably talented. 

TIER 3

TY Hilton

Keenan Allen

Stefan Diggs

Doug Baldwin

Amari Cooper

Here is the WR1/WR2 border group. If these are your #2 guys, you are extremely strong at the position. If they are your WR1, you will need a solid #2 in the next couple of rounds. 

TIER 4

Adam Thielen

Brandin Cooks

Allen Robinson

Marvin Jones

Demaryius Thomas

Larry Fitzgerald

Golden Tate

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Jarvis Landry

Chris Hogan

This is a big group, and encompasses most of the guys I consider solid WR2 players. 

TIER 5

Alshon Jeffery

Marquise Goodwin

Josh Gordon

Corey Davis

Devin Funchess

These are the other guys I would feel OK about as WR2. Goodwin has a chance to have a breakout season. Gordon is obviously capable of blowing up if he can stay away from blowing smoke. 

TIER 6

Julian Edelman

Sammy Watkins

Robby Anderson

Cooper Kupp

Robert Woods

Randall Cobb

Emmanuel Sanders

Marqise Lee

Nelson Agholor

This is essentially where my group of WR3 possibilities ends in an ideal world. If you have these guys as bench depth, your WR group is extremely strong. 

TIER 7

Kelvin Benjamin

Kenny Golladay

Will Fuller V

Michael Crabtree

Kenny Stills

Sterling Shepard

Jordy Nelson

Jamison Crowder

Pierre Garcon

Allen Turns

Tyler Lockett

DeSean Jackson

Richard Matthews

This is my first level of bench WRs. These guys are also decent FLEX plays if you are weak at RB. 

TIER 8

DJ Moore

DeVante Parker

Mohamed Sanu

Mike Wallace

Paul Richardson

Jermaine Kearse

Terrance Williams

Calvin Ridley

Christian Kirk

Danny Amendola

Ryan Grant

Mike Williams

Courtland Sutton

John Ross

These guys are late round fliers. You can’t count on production every week out of these guys, but these guys are solid enough to fill out your roster with. Some guys, like Ridley and Ross are regarded as top level prospects and could end up as gold. 

TIGHT ENDS

TIER 1 

Rob Gronkowski

Yep. Just him. You can draft him as early as round 2 because he is a class ahead of the field in the weakest division, and can give you close to the same numbers as a RB or WR in the same range. Only question with him is health. 

TIER 2

Travis Kelce

Zach Ertz

These two have closed the gap somewhat on Gronk, and if you are not looking to use a top three pick on a tight end, these guys can still get you solid productivity. 

TIER 3

Greg Olsen

Jimmy Graham

Jordan Reed

Kyle Rudolph

Delanie Walker

The drop from tier 2 to 3 is massive, and if you don’t get one of the top 3 guys, you would be wise to wait a while to grab your guy. Graham could have a strong year if Rodgers uses him in the red zone. Reed has the best potential of this tier, but the most health concerns. 

TIER 4

Trey Burton

Evan Engram

David Njoku

Jack Doyle 

Cameron Brate

These guys are less proven and More of an upside play. More high risk than tier 3, but could easily meet their production. 

TIER 5

Tyler Eifert

Eric Ebron

Ryan Griffin

Jared Cook

OJ Howard

This isn’t ideal, but some of these guys could be serviceable if you don’t want to invest in a crapshoot position.

DEFENSE/ST

TIER 1

LA Rams

Jacksonville

Minnesota

Philadelphia

TIER 2

LA Chargers

Baltimore

Denver

Houston

TIER 3

Pittsburgh

Seattle

Carolina

New Orleans

TIER 4

New England

Dallas

Detroit

Kansas City

Atlanta

Chicago

Tennessee

KICKERS

TIER 1

Stephen Gostkowski

Justin Tucker

Greg Zuerlein

TIER 2

Harrison Butler

Wil Lutz

Jake Elliott

Matt Bryant

Josh Lambo

Chris Boswell

Graham Gano

TIER 3

Robbie Gould

Matt Prater

Mason Crosby

Dan Bailey

Adam Vinatieri

Caleb Sturgis

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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